Amelia Ballard was born in 1992. When she was only 17-months-old, she spiked a 104 F fever, and was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Her parents, who are from Macon, brought her to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for treatment. She was hospitalized for more than two years, and then relapsed at 3 years old.
"So they told my mom and dad the treatment was going to be rigorous this time, more intense,” she says, “with chemotherapy regimens and total body and cranial radiation.” In June 1997, Amelia had a bone marrow transplant, receiving her brother Robbie’s stem cells. There were some complications, but in the end, the procedure worked. The family took it second by second, moment by moment, day by day. The road to recovery was grueling.
Once she passed the five-year remission mark, she entered the survivor program at the Aflac Cancer & Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Over the next several years, she had regular checkups and attended Camp Sunshine, a special camp for children with cancer. She made good friends, grew close to counselors and nurses at the camp, and eventually became a camp counselor. Lillian Meacham, M.D. helped Amelia understand her past medical history and transitionr from pediatric to adult healthcare.
Her experiences cemented her desire to work with children and be a nurse. In 2016, she graduated from Georgia Southern University’s nursing program and started working as a nurse at Egleston in 2017 as a novice nurse in the Emergency Center. She is now a colleague nurse and plans to eventually go back to college to become a nurse practitioner with a specialty in pediatric oncology. “These kids have a lot of potential…I want them to know that there are good days ahead.”
Ballard credits her parents and the hospital staff with keeping her positive and optimistic. They tried to provide as much normalcy and optimism as possible during her long stays at the hospital. She recalls her mother only taking photos of her when she was smiling and on days she felt okay, showing them to her on days when she wasn’t feeling well. She also gave Amerlia something to look forward to once her cancer treatment was over by always discussing the future. Doctors and nurses also offered emotional support, warmth and cheer; they all joined forces to throw her a Lion King themed party for her fourth birthday.
Today, at 24, she’s been cancer free for many years. She still has annual appointments with cardiology, oncology and endocrinology, and is in good health.
"Cancer has been a journey filled with joy, pain, battles and triumphs," she says. "Along my journey, I have lost many dear friends, but I am forever grateful for the journey and the many blessings that have resulted from it. I am so excited to pay it forward and provide each of my patients and their families with the care and compassion shown to me and my family during our experience at CHOA."
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